6th August 2015


Climate Change
United States
Imaging Spectroscopy
Laser Scanning
3D Forest-Drought Mapping

California’s forests are undergoing an unprecedented drought unseen in our climate history for more than a thousand years. While much of the attention has (understandably) focused on water use by farmers and citizens, less attention has been given to California’s forests.

This map portal provides examples of a novel forest monitoring product from the CAO called 3-D Canopy Water Imaging or “3D-H2O”. The images are fully three-dimensional, providing the lay of the land as well as the size, structure and architecture of each mapped tree. The coloring shows how much water is contained in each tree canopy (mainly in the foliage) derived from laser-guided imaging spectroscopy. Blue colors indicate higher water content in a canopy, which is an excellent indicator of the condition of each tree. Red indicates the trees having very low water content and are thus the most vulnerable to death. Many thousands of these images are currently being collected by the CAO team, and will be used to create the State of California’s Forests-in-Drought map for 2015.

California’s forests provide three critically important services to people. First, nearly all of California’s forests are in watersheds that collect, channel and release rainwater to rivers and reservoirs, and on to people and farms. Without healthy forests, watersheds lose their ability to store and release water for end-users downhill. Second, California’s forests are an important part of the State’s climate change mitigation strategy. These forests sequester millions of tons of carbon, which otherwise will end up in the atmosphere as heat-trapping carbon dioxide and methane. Third, California’s forests provide important habitat to numerous plant and animal species, including humans.

The importance of California’s forests is clear, but the ongoing drought plus high temperatures, associated insect outbreaks, and fire all severely threaten the State’s natural resource base. CAO is dedicated to provided novel science-based mapping of forest carbon, diversity and water conditions.  Our maps can be used by State, Federal and local organizations to undertake tactical forest interventions via ground-based responses on a geographically explicit basis.  Doing so will greatly increase the power and value of field work to mitigate the effects of climate change on California’s forest ecosystems and watersheds.